I went to see “The Punk Singer” last night, the documentary about Kathleen Hanna. Punk scenes have always felt like a boys club to me, so Bikini Kill and rrrriot girl make me feel nostalgic for a scene that’s never really been mine to begin with.
But mostly, I find myself craving feminist stories and depictions lately. I wasn’t born into feminism. I have had a lot of feminist mentors in my life, but I didn’t start calling myself a feminist until college, and have since attempted to incorporate it into as much of my life as I can. Something clicked for me. Feminism made sense as a movement, but it also gave me lens with which to view and understand the world. It was like all these things that did not make sense in our culture suddenly fit together, and I had a language to talk about it. All these social justice issues that seemed disconnected aligned with feminism in a way that I understood.
So I was able to create these kind of feminist “bubbles." I surrounded myself with awesome, inspiring women who encouraged me to be a better feminist through their actions and their lives. It was in part because I wanted to be like these women, but it was also that I was these women. I am opinionated. I am loud and eager, and sometimes I have an urgency of wanting to talk and share. I am defiant. And I want so badly to do something that has a positive impact on people. These qualities are not always appreciated in the dominant culture, but they can be helpful in feminism. So I gravitated towards these feminist circles.
Early in my feminist identity, I was arguing with someone I was dating and they told me they were tired of my “nitpicking feminist bullshit.” And in the back of my mind, I thought maybe it was true. But I was working in a domestic violence shelter. And I was doing gender research. And I had a community of feminists reminding me that no, it wasn’t true. That advocating for social justice and equality isn’t “nitpicking.” And feminism wasn’t “bullshit.”
But then I moved across the country. And so far, the feminist community has not manifested itself the way it has for me in the past. So it has become increasingly harder to filter out the negative messages I receive constantly about feminism.
Last week, I was talking with one of my coworkers, who I have known for months and with whom I have a positive relationship, and he was surprised to know that I call myself a feminist. He asked, “Are you an equalist or a feminist?” So I told him that I was a pretty big feminist, and he replied, “So, like wanting to bring men down, man-hating….” And I was floored. I carefully explained that that’s not really what feminism is, encouraged him to take a women’s studies class, and told him we could get coffee and talk about feminism sometime.
What bothered me was that I could tell instantly that his opinion about me had changed. I like to believe that if I live as a positive example of what feminism is, that it can change people’s perspectives like it did my own. In some cases it does, but other times people allow their misconceptions to fill in the gaps about what they don’t know. I wish I had felt angry or complacent, but I just felt bummed. And this time, I didn’t have a community of feminists to go to reminding me how valuable what I am doing is.
So seeing “The Punk Singer” now, particularly, was emotional for me. On screen, illuminated, were so many things that I admire and aspire to, all in one person, one woman, and one feminist. There are lots of ways to engage in feminism. What I am most interested in is sharing feminist stories. Yes, as a movement (and as individuals) we have to be critical and self-aware. But we also need to be constantly reminded of what brings us together. We have to actively work to create a community that welcomes the voices, experiences, and truths of all women.
At the end of the film, Hanna says, “I don’t care if people don’t think feminism is important, because I know it is…and other people can think whatever they want. My problem is when people get in the way of feminism…If they don’t want to believe in it and they don’t want to care about, that’s totally fine. But they should have to stay out of my way.”
I am nowhere near as badass as the feminists I have had the privilege of knowing, listening to, or reading about. But spending my time trying to live up to their legacies sounds a lot more worthwhile than shrinking so that I don’t offend others. So yes, I’m a feminist. You can spend all day debating what that means and if it matters, but the rest of us have work to do.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.